I’m a booky kind of chick. I like reading and learning about dead languages and history. Some people’s idea of a perfect date is walking on a beach and drinking adult beverages with little umbrellas and while I enjoy such luxuries at times, there are many times I would much rather be walking through the ruins of an old fort, digging for gems, or sitting in a botanical garden identifying plants (and their uses) and thinking on the stories behind the strength and perseverance represented in the koi swimming at my fingertips. As a girl who could easily spend a week buried nose deep in the vanilla musk of biblichor, I’ve both marveled at how often the hermits spoken of in ancient texts and new creations were simultaneously described as so many seemingly contradictory things:We always look at those who choose to step away from the everyday as either incredibly wise or mad, usually the latter until their apparent madness somehow makes sense when applied to whatever our current situation is. There’s no middle ground for what we perceive and we have learned not only to shun them socially, or appear to shun them anyway, but also to mock them in their existence.
But what if they’re the ones who have really figured it all out?
I’ve spent much of the last 24 months in relative isolation whether it was imposed on me by the circumstance of my health and recovery, by the deliberate willingness to walk away from me in my struggle seen in friends I once felt were ride-or-die and even by the man who promised to be there in sickness and health, or by the self-imposition of hermitude as I have sought the answers to such questions as why I let those into the garden of my soul that I did and where I go from here. I find this isolation comes with an ebb and flow that mimics the waves or the tides: I pull away to silence and solitude, staying in my room and haunting coffee shops alone, writing, painting, contemplating, napping, and sipping tea alone with no one for company before seeking interaction once again. In this flow, I also find that those whose presence in my life is healthiest, those whose friendship has helped me so much in the clearing of my proverbial garden, seem to understand the tides of my interaction, although whether it is because they too ebb and flow in their interactions or they seem to just understand my need is beyond me.
What I’ve learned in this time of pulchritude behind the garden walls of the hermitage within is that every interaction I have either adds to or takes away from the wellspring within and each and every interaction has an impact on my overall wellness whether I want it to or not. It isn’t that other people have power over me and power to harm, but rather that those who are toxic continue to take away from me and when there aren’t enough of those who will add to my wellspring I end up losing ground and eventually in a deficit. The impact of such isolation as I’ve grown accustomed to is that I’ve seen the immediate impact of the credits and debits of other people’s words, choices, and behaviors with regard to me and when they impact me.
We all know what it is like when we are having a rough day and someone flashes us a genuine smile or hands us a cup of coffee, telling us it is on them: we feel immediately better and a little more cheerful ourselves.
We also know what it is like when we come across someone who wants to scream at us for no apparent reason, who wants to hold us to an unreasonable expectation, who cuts us off on the road, who nags us incessantly, or who, in some form or fashion, manages to suck the fun and joy from whatever we were feeling a moment before like a vampire of happiness.
Those people just effing suck. *sigh*
To some degree, we have no choice about whether we find ourselves around those who might just suck. I cannot control who might be driving next to me or who is standing behind me in the coffee shop, and I can’t just quit my job if someone rubs me the wrong way once in a while. I wouldn’t be able to do the adulting and the paying of bills and buying of food etcetera if I didn’t do the working. Facts.
However, I do get to decide where and how I invest my energies outside the necessary everyday interactions of adulting and moving through the world.
I’m a giving person. I love to help people, to serve people, to teach, to empathize, to hear stories and share them, to be around others. Even when I’m going through things, I still find myself surrounding myself with others into whom I can pour life, light, and love. Notwithstanding my propensity to also choose to pour myself into those who are completely unwilling or unable to requite such action and affection, I also have the proclivity to give and keep giving even when doing so harms me physically and emotionally, a character trait that has not gone unnoticed and unchecked by my inner circle.
Several weeks ago a friend of mine announced rather suddenly that she was not going to tell me any of her worries anymore, no matter how big, because she realized I was expending most of my energies not working on what I need to work on, namely working on me. Speaking with someone else, she echoed the feelings of the first. A third friend concurred as well. One can be an outlier, two are unusual, three is a pattern, and I was hurt, actually. I’m a strong woman, I reasoned, and I can make choices for myself about whether I need to step back, I argued, but they all stood firm:
Gwen has not yet learned the importance of seeing to her own well first before filling others.
(Have too, I argued silently to no one because they were all not listening to my nonsensical excuses anymore.)
The conversations came up in another conversation wherein I was asked if I really thought that I had emotional capital to spend on anyone else when I don’t have enough emotional capital to spend on myself and making sure my own needs are met.
Emotional capital… Capital like money… Emotional money to spend… Emotions are monies in and out…
Well money in and money out is something I think we all can really conceptualize, isn’t it? We balance our accounts every month (or at least we should) as we verify that the monies going in went in and the monies coming out came out while also being sure no one has stolen our identity. We have all, at some point or another, lived paycheck to paycheck and we all strive to put monies away to buy a new car, make a down payment on a house, have a retirement, and so on.
So what if we started thinking of the interactions in our day as a transaction against the accounts that hold our emotional capital only it’s not that all transactions are strictly quid pro quo?
When we spend time with those we esteem whether it is in person or online, writing to and hearing from them, talking to them on the phone, texting, whatever, their ledgers receive a credit and so does ours, but it doesn’t come from nowhere. We pour into them and they pour into us. When we give compassion and empathy, caring and kindness to someone else, we get a deposit from them but it may not be equal to the deposit we make to them. This is to say, even the healthiest and most loving and kind interactions can still be unequal exchanges.
When we are with someone who is draining to us, we know they effing suck but the exchange for them is that their ledger is filled, which is why they keep coming back to the chronically giving souls who don’t know how to create boundaries for themselves, while our ledger only decreases.
When we use others, we are receiving a credit but they will experience a loss of capital at our expense.
And sometimes, despite all good intentions, one or the other of us in a healthy relationship still feels drained by the interactions of the other because we are so empty we have nothing left to give.
As I let these words linger and germinate within me, I started to ruminate on what has been happening in my world to build or reduce the balance of my emotional capital. While being there for my friends all the time is not inherently bad, I didn’t have enough of a balance to be there for myself. On an airplane, we all know that we should see to our own oxygen mask first before helping our neighbor, but I stopped looking after my own oxygen mask ages ago. This does not mean that I needed to cut out my friends, but it did mean that I needed to allow them to mindfully help me hold a line between really important things I *needed* to be there for and other things that were still important but not essential.
As I looked back, I noticed that some of the most important people in my life had drawn back to a degree in sharing what is happening in their worlds. In the moments I noted the draw-back initially, I was hurt because I couldn’t understand how they could pull away. I’d somewhere decided that the only way emotional capital works is if I’m the keeper of all the knowledge and stories… but that is unfair to me because I am not strong enough for my own stories right now, let alone everyone else’s. Without realizing what was happening or why, those within my circle were pulling away in ways that empty my ledger to keep me from pouring all of myself into them when what I really needed to do was pour into myself while still behaving in such a way as to fill mine.
The other thing I noticed was that the longer I could go between interacting with the truly vampiric entities in my world, the more full my ledger remained. It didn’t matter if it was a phonecall, a text, an email, or a face to face interaction, my balance would drain to negative numbers immediately.
Every human being you interact with is either crediting your emotional ledger or creating an emotional debit; it is not enough simply to be happy when you are no longer in the hole or to be barely getting by with chump-change in your accounts.
The whole idea of the ledger is not to judge the other or ascribe intent or motive to the other, it is simply to recognize that your physical and emotional well-being are impacted by the balance of your ledger and not everyone you have a relationship with is someone who tends to leave your ledger fuller. We all will have rough days or moments where our attitude leaves something to be desired or we are demanding and difficult; I am not talking about the “sometimes difficult to deal with” individual because are all that person at some point; if someone is in a permanent state of being difficult, they will always be making withdrawals from your accounts. We all have moments where we may need to set a boundary, speak a truth, or set somebody straight and that will feel like a charge against someone else’s account if it stings to do so; if I cross a line and I need to have my course corrected, it will not feel good but it will be right for me to experience that and is, therefore, an authorized charge; I’m not speaking about those moments where we need to be tightened up a titch. We also always have moments in life where we find our ledgers bare and we struggle to fill them alone, needing more from others to find our accounts increase; as long as this is a season rather than a permanent address, I’m not speaking of this either. I’m speaking of the person whose presence in your life has created an automatic deduction by their mere existence in your world that leaves you feeling broken, used up, unfulfilled, unworthy, weary, and anything other than peace.
Some people, regardless of how much you love them, will continue to leave unauthorized charges against your emotional account balance, keeping you permanently low in funds or living life in emotional arrears until you decide to cut off their access… to you.
if giving leaves you
you’re giving too much
to the wrong person.
~ Pavana Reddy
There is nothing wrong with recognizing where your in your emotional budged you are bleeding capital unnecessarily. In fact, I would argue that it is essential for you to recognize when someone is making unauthorized withdrawals from your accounts. The surest way to begin this is to learn to hermit.
Take a step back from your engagements and everything that is not a necessary responsibility of the basics of adulting: if it isn’t related to your food, air, water, or shelter, take a break.
What do you need? What things must stay and what things can you learn to give up? Are there material possessions that are pulling your emotional capital away? Are you trying to achieve something external at the expense of what is internal? Are the transactions you’re making actually essential?
Step back from the relationships in your life, step back from social media, and step back from your emotional entanglements to unplug for a few days or a week, a month if you can, and contemplate where in those relationships are filling you and where they are not.
I am not advocating for abandoning your children, your significant other, your family, or your friends; I’m advocating for retreating to the hermitarium for a time to reconnect with yourself and take account of your emotional accounts. With your children, you’re the guide to what a healthy relationship is and how to build it, so when you come back, model and build that for your children. It is essential for your ledger to be accruing a positive balance, especially if you have children. Where will they learn to account for their emotional health and well-being if not from you? Where will they learn to create and maintain healthy boundaries in all their relationships if not from you? If you do not teach your children about what a healthy relationship is, what it looks like, and how to maintain it or cut it off, they will learn to build relationships that are as out of balance as yours is. With the adults in your life, when you find things are out of balance, fix them. If you cannot fix them by conversation and hard work by creating some boundaries and expectations, then by all means cut off the relationship. It may be permanent, it may be temporary, who can say? But it is essential and not only for you.
Take a lesson from the hermits and learn to unplug yourself to take stock of what you’re doing, what you want, where you’re going in life, what you need to do to get there, and where your emotional budget is out of balance.
For the love of doughnuts, stop giving so much to the wrong people and find a way to make the balance on your emotional ledger grow.
You’ll be a much happier and healthier person in the long run and so will those for whom you care.